Tag: Epstein-Barr

Gluten Free – by choice?

I do not have Celiac Disease. I won’t even go so far as to say I’m gluten intolerant. I personally know people who have tested negative for Celiac yet a gluten filled meal will send them running for the bathroom or leave them plagued by various symptoms. They might still indulge from time to time but they know the consequences. Thankfully, I have never experienced a reaction that extreme. For me, it’s more subtle and eating gluten free is a voluntary choice.

Last year’s birthday pancakes made from a gluten free mix.

The question of Celiac inevitably comes up, most often by inquiring friends or waitresses when I venture out. My response in the negative is usually followed by a somewhat quizzical look until I explain that I’ve had some health issues and I just feel better when I don’t eat gluten. I make a conscious effort to surround myself with people who respect my choices even if they may not fully understand them and I’ve been fortunate that my family and close friends have automatically fallen into that category.

I don’t make a big deal out of my dietary choices, in fact, my instinct is to stay as far under the radar as possible with things like that. I’ve never been one that likes to draw attention to myself and declining a piece of pizza is definitely attention grabbing. It’s something I’ve had to work on. You playing small does not help anyone. It prevents you from bringing awareness to areas that need it and potentially helping others who might be in the same boat as you.

I still get uncomfortable from time to time talking about my health issues and my food choices. Many people just don’t understand. Judgement has always been a fear for me but one I’ve made great strides towards overcoming and continue to work on. My blog has created a platform that has allowed me to be more honest and more authentic, with others and with myself.

I stopped eating gluten around April of 2017. Both the D.O. I was seeing at the time as well as my naturopath later on, encouraged it. I was experiencing a lot of nausea and stomach trouble and through my research had learned about gluten and at the minimum, the distress it can cause in your gut. Within days of completely eliminating gluten from my diet, my bloating decreased and my stomach issues improved significantly. Coincidence? Maybe. Worth steering clear of most things gluten? For me? Absolutely.

Before we go any further, let’s break it down…

What is gluten? Taken from the Celiac Disease Foundation, simply put, “Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat… Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together.” Wheat, barley and rye are the three main gluten containing grains. Non-gluten containing grains include amaranth, buckwheat, rice (brown, white, wild), millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff.

What foods contain gluten?  – Some common foods that typically contain gluten include pastas, breads, baked goods & desserts, cereals and sauces. Foods that you might not realize contain gluten but likely do include snack bars, chips, bouillon cubes, salad dressings, chili packets & other seasonings, soy sauce and more. Basically, if it’s pre-packaged, you need to check the ingredients. I was blown away with the amount of food stuff that contains gluten. Foods aren’t the only gluten containing items, many beauty products also contain gluten.

Is gluten bad for you? – I don’t think gluten is inherently bad. Our ancestors ate gluten containing grains for centuries but modern technology and farming techniques have ensured that the grains they ate were vastly different from the grains we eat today. This is a great article that goes more in depth.

Like with anything, too much of a good thing can turn bad. Unfortunately, gluten is now added to almost everything we eat and our bodies are on overload. Because gluten containing foods can be hard to digest, it’s often recommended that those with autoimmune conditions, especially conditions such as leaky gut, IBS, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohns, etc. remove gluten from their diet, at least temporarily.

Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity – There are a wide range of symptoms that can range from stomach issues, nausea, gas, bloating and vomiting to headaches, fatigue, brain fog and joint pain. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to do a quick Google search.

Some additional things to keep in mind:

– Eating gluten free has become so much easier. There are whole sections in the grocery store dedicated to gluten free food stuff, but don’t be fooled. Many gluten free products contain ingredient lists that are ridiculously long and very unhealthy. Aside from gluten free pastas, soy sauce and seasonings, and along with the occasional loaf of gluten free bread, I steer mostly clear of gluten free touting products. I aim for fresh, whole foods instead.

The best salad I’ve ever eaten – spring 2018, Washington DC. Who said gluten free or “healthy” for that matter has to taste bad?!

– Many people think eating out gluten free is difficult and it can be, at first. Once you learn a few tricks of the trade, eating out gluten free will be a breeze. Many restaurants now include gluten free sections or alternatives in their menu. I live in a pretty small town in north central Ohio where gluten free eating is not common. I have not been to a restaurant yet where I can not find something to eat. You might have to modify the menu a little bit (burger with no bun, salad without croutons, an entree with no sauce, etc.) but once you explain your situation, I’ve found most restaurants are very accommodating.

– An at home elimination diet (removing all gluten from your diet for, say, 2 weeks) is a cost effective first step and can be extremely insightful. If you think you may have a gluten intolerance/sensitivity or even Celiac disease and want additional resources and help, talk to you doctor. If they don’t listen, find someone that will.

– I want to add one last point. Aside from gluten, I’ve also removed almost all refined sugar but I think it’s important to emphasize that I don’t view the way I eat as a restrictive diet, I view it as a choice. While I choose to eat gluten free a majority of the time, I will indulge in the occasional gluten containing meal under special circumstances. This might be during a period of travel where an opportunity presents itself to try something that is not readily available back home (such as Maryland crab crakes!). Aside from those occasions, I prefer to eat without.

Those with severe gluten intolerance or Celiac have to eat gluten free. I don’t claim to fall into either of those categories. I eat gluten free most of the time because my body simply feels better without it. Everything in moderation. I enjoy myself and I enjoy my life. For me, as I’ve said before, it’s all about the balance.

More soon on the subject of “labeling” yourself and why that can be a slippery slope. It’s something I’m working to change in my own life and I look forward to sharing more thoughts on it soon. In the mean time, look out for a fun blog in 2 weeks with a gift idea that just might be the perfect fit for those special people on your holiday shopping list! 

Pause and Reflection

I was scrolling through social media this past weekend when a friends post caught my eye. I quickly skimmed over it and kept scrolling. Then I stopped and back tracked. Wow, I thought… I can really relate to this. In a social media crazed world where it seems everyone but you is hitting that next “PR” I loved the reminder this simple message offered.

We’re constantly being faced with all of the things we aren’t doing (good enough, fast enough, “enough enough”) and this message was one to the contrary. It offered an opportunity for REFLECTION. That’s an opportunity that I don’t make time for often enough. When I find myself unhappy or getting too caught up in the hustle of life I try to stop myself and focus my attention to a couple of key areas that for me, either inhibit or encourage the moments of positive reflection that we all need:

SELF TALK – I’ll be the first to admit, I’m extremely hard on myself. I always have been and I probably always will be. I know there are many of you reading who can relate. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My own internal “tough talk” has gotten me through many different situations in life, pushed me to reach goals I may not have otherwise reached and made me a better person for it. However, when that internal talk is nothing but “tough” it takes a toll, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

PERSONAL TIMELINES – I have a very forward thinking mind. When I was 13, I had the next decade planned out. How did that go? Ha, unsurprisingly, not exactly as planned… and thank goodness. How could I have possibly known what would make me happy now at that age? I’m not saying some don’t, but I sure didn’t… no matter how confident I was that I did.

Do I still try to nail down the details of everything I do ridiculously far in advance? Yeah, pretty consistently. I’m constantly thinking and planning ahead. But I do so with an acquired awareness that things may not go as planned and that’s ok. It has to be.

Goals will change as they often do. Thinking ahead is a wonderful habit to form but if you’re not careful, on your quest to be the next “best” you’ll forget to pause and appreciate the NOW. The now is all we really have, that’s where life is actually happening.

AWARENESS – When’s the last time you stopped and looked around? How many times do you walk into a place you’ve been countless times and notice something for the very first? Stop and think about that. Awareness can come in many forms. Dealing with health issues has increased my awareness exponentially… especially on an internal level. That can be a good thing or that can be a bad thing, depending on how you allow it to take hold. The combination of being a woman and living/traveling on my own has increased my awareness of my surroundings. Having children and pets increases awareness in yet another way.

Awareness can paralyze you or it can open you up to the world outside. The choice is yours. If you allow yourself to grow from it, then the more aware you are the more prepared you’ll be to recognize the small victories and appreciate them for what they truly are – not in comparison to everyone else – but in respect to the work it took to reach them and how far you have come. Outside recognition is always nice but not all victories are met with cheers and accolades and not all need to be. The personal ones are often the most meaningful.

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It hits me at random times. It could be a song, a smell, a place… I’ll stop and I’ll look around or I’ll pause and I’ll reflect. Old memories, old friends, old goals and dreams will flood in. In those moments I think back to the me of “yesterday”… the me of last month, last year and beyond. I smile and continue on. I am a better person for all that I’ve been through. I’ve grown in so many ways as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a human being.

Take a pause… stop what you’re doing and reflect a moment. Acknowledge the path you’ve tread and the miles you’ve navigated. Allow yourself a moment of peace and appreciation. You’ve come far my friend. Continue on.

 

Healing Starts at Home

We’re surrounded by it. The commercials, the magazines, the relentless ads featuring cure all solutions for every condition under the sun. Often times it involves purchasing one or more products, a slew of supplements or subscribing to some bundle of promises neatly packaged. A healthy person may not give these advertisements a second thought. Some of them even come across as obviously scammy in nature. Under normal circumstances, they might not have drawn your attention either. But when you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, you notice.

If you go so far as to dig deeper into these products you’ll likely find avid supporters who swear by them, say the products pushed them over the hump on their path towards healing and they will never purchase from anywhere else. Then you’ll find customers who will never touch the same product again. Your mind will acknowledge the latter but it’ll keep coming back to the former…what if this is the answer I’ve been searching for… what if…

While there’s nothing wrong with investing into health products or supplements (I take a handful myself and they’ve been instrumental on my own journey), these items do add up and it does get expensive. Then it becomes stressful. I think that sometimes we get so wrapped up in finding “the one solution” – the “answer to our prayers” – that we overlook the place where true healing starts: at home.

Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating right? Are you consuming mostly unprocessed foods? Are you spending some time outside under the sun each day? Are you meditating? Are you taking time out of your week for some form of yoga or exercise? Are you on good terms with your family, your friends and your coworkers?

I encourage you to create your own checklist and once you have it, quiz yourself on a regular basis. If you find that your daily life is not serving your physical or mental health, then you can take all of the supplements and follow all of the advice that you can get your hands on and you’ll never receive the full benefits. They might help you for a while but sooner or later your body and your mind will rebel. And the climb out will be longer and harder than it was before. This is the truth.

It’s hard, I get it. But no matter what I try, I always come back to the basics… personally, I feel better when I’m in bed by 10pm. I don’t know why that’s such a struggle for me but it is. I love dairy – especially cheese – but I know my body does better without it (all things in moderation). Even though I have to force myself outside on some days, I always, almost immediately, feel better for having done it. Strenuous exercise just isn’t in the cards for me right now but yoga… that I love and that I can do. And as a highly empathetic person, I feel everything… I do my best to pick my spots and pick my people because I know if I put too much on my plate or associate with negative nelly’s, the weight of those things is immobilizing and I’ll be no good to anyone, myself included.

Be gentle with yourself and be kind. But don’t forget to also be honest. If you’re at square one right now, I feel you. I really do. Take a deep breathe and find one thing – just one – that you know has a positive impact on your health (physical or mental) that you can implement immediately. It could be a 15 minute walk during lunch to clear your head and get some fresh air or maybe exchanging the drive thru for a more nourishing lunch that in reality, only takes a quick trip to the store and a couple of minutes each night to put together.

Start there and build… slowly, gradually, setting yourself up for success. Once you’ve done all that you can, add in those supplements for support and research those products you’ve heard so much about if you believe they might really help you. But don’t overlook the healing that starts at home, for that’s where the true healing begins.

Learning to Love the Process

I’m no stranger to working out. I’ve been exercising and coming up with workout routines for myself on and off for the past 10 years. I haven’t always been the most consistent with it but it’s definitely been a part of my life. Whether in the form of gym sessions or home based training sessions, I’ve amassed a nice collection of DVDs and youtube workouts, weights, resistant bands and other exercise related accessories over the years. I’ve dabbled in quite a few different areas from running, kickboxing and HIIT training to yoga. For the most part, exercising has been something I enjoy doing.

A morning spent cleaning the barn? While not your conventional workout, it counts in my book!

While I use to find it relatively easy to push myself in my workouts, my nutritional support had often been lacking. The research and dietary changes I’ve implemented in the last eighteen months has changed that but it’s been over two years since I’ve had any sort of consistent workout routine. Since the end of 2016, my health has been the dictating factor. My body simply hasn’t felt well enough to even think about doing any kind of semi-strenuous exercising… until recently. My health has improved significantly in the past couple of months and it’s had me thinking more and more about the idea of starting up an exercise routine again. So in true Kayla fashion, I wasted no time in signing up for a free month long trial of the fitness app, Aaptiv. I woke up the next morning, full of energy (well, mental energy at least) and excited to jump into my first 40 minute workout session – Abs, Booty and Cardio.

Things started off well but by the halfway point my heart was pounding out of my chest and I could feel my breakfast coming back up (ewww, sorry… honesty can be brutal!). I couldn’t get enough air. I tried breaking for longer and longer periods of time between each set of exercises but I just wasn’t recovering and I couldn’t catch my breath. I pushed on a little more and finally, with 8 minutes left to go, detached myself from my pride and quit. Pushing any further was just downright counterproductive. My body was spent.

I sat down for a minute before heading to the bathroom for a shower. I splashed some water on my face and realizing how shaky and lightheaded I actually was, sat down on top of the toilet to give my body another chance to recover. All at once the walls came crashing down and I was consumed by an overwhelming feeling of failure as the tears flowed. I sat on the toilet crying my eyes out for 20 minutes. They just kept coming. For eighteen months I have felt betrayed by my body and longed to feel strong again, to feel physically adequate.

“I thought I was starting off easy…” I texted my mom. “I’ve worked out over the years but never had the nutritional element to support it. Now I have that down and can’t do the cardio ugh I don’t know why I feel so discouraged. My brain wants to do more than my body can.”

In true mom fashion, she quickly replied with some sound advice: “Don’t do cardio stuff to start, you have been super busy. Start with more yoga; I’ll send you a link to a girl I like. You have come leaps and bounds compared to where you were, so look at all the ground you have covered versus the ground still to go. You will build up to it, you’re doing great,” she said.

“Thanks Mom,” I replied, “that’d be great. I haven’t even been doing yoga consistently and haven’t been getting enough sleep, my own fault. I don’t know why I thought high intensity would be best to start off with (insert laughing emojis). Laughing now. Pity party closing down. Love you!”

And just like that I realized how silly I had been and how right she was. Six months ago I had struggled to get through a grocery store. Since then I had planned and executed a six week trip to Canada, driving 21 1/2 hours each way on my own. I had undertaken a part time job as a bartender/waitress with no prior experience and had done so successfully. I had started riding horses again. I made new friends in a new country and pushed my body farther than I thought I could, farther than I probably should have. Through it all my body had been resilient, offering me more lee-way than it had in a long time. Why was I punishing it in return?

A necklace I purchased for one of my sisters serves as a great reminder for us all.

Why was I viewing my body as weak? Was it because I felt it didn’t live up to what I thought constituted as “strong?” Who’s definition of strong was I using? It wasn’t serving me well. Strength is not limited to what you see on the outside, I realized, as I thought about my journey over the past year and a half. In fact, I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been in so many ways.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the last couple of years is that it’s often the embracing, the letting go of whatever frustrations or expectations you feel like you’re just not meeting, that opens up the door to growth you may not have even realized was possible. It’s such an incredibly humbling but beautifully liberating experience. Maybe I’m just different (that’s entirely possible ha ha), or maybe I’m finally at a point in my life where I’m more open to receiving the lessons that so often present themselves if we’re only receptive, but these realizations seem to come frequently these days and I’m so grateful for them. I have every intention of building my body back up to what I know it can be. I still want those abs and the tight glutes too, and I’m confident I’ll get there. It probably won’t be tomorrow or next week or next month but it will be with eyes and ears open to what my body is telling me. Slow and steady. Learning to love the process.

Next week: NEW RECIPE POST!

My Journey Through Health and Healing: Adrenal Fatigue

This week brings us to the last post in the five part overview of my own recent health journey. I appreciate everyone that has followed along and hope that that the telling of my story has offered some guidance and hope to those going through similar things and perhaps some insight for anyone on the outside looking in. Over the next few weeks I look forward to delving deeper into some of the topics that were touched on and much more.

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While I felt much improved after my candida diagnosis and subsequent treatment, things still weren’t great. By the time I went home to Michigan again for Thanksgiving I was seemingly relapsing with more symptoms. Christmas was worse. Once the downhill slide started, as with everything else I had dealt with, it seemed to progress very quickly. For a couple of months I couldn’t do much of anything. Walking through the grocery store was exhausting. I once again needed help looking after my animals. Trips to the barn were brief. I could not get my body out of bed in the morning and everything was overstimulating. The anxiety I was again experiencing was palpable. Night sweats became common, a sure sign that my hormones were out of whack.  After another consultation and test with my naturopath, we confirmed I was suffering from adrenal fatigue.

I think it’s important to briefly explain what adrenal fatigue actually is. Your adrenal glands sit right above your kidneys and they control a variety of hormones. One of the hormones indicative of adrenal function is cortisol. When your body perceives danger (real or “imaginary”) your cortisol levels rise and your body goes into fight or flight mode. Once the danger has passed, your cortisol levels return to normal. If your body is under a constant perceived threat (which could be anything from major relationship problems to the death of a loved one to physical stressors) your cortisol levels are kept at a constantly high level and the adrenal’s ability to regulate other hormones starts to suffer which can set off a chain reaction.

In the morning, your cortisol levels for the day are supposed to be at their highest. That’s what wakes you up and gets you out of bed every morning. From there, cortisol will slowly taper off until nighttime hits and melatonin (your sleep hormone) begins to rise. For someone with adrenal fatigue, that pattern can be seriously skewed. My own cortisol level was not only at its lowest for the day in the morning, it was below the normal range completely. From there, my cortisol spiked around noon, dropped significantly again by late afternoon and then once again started to rise in the evening. I was, literally, riding a wave. My DHEA levels, another hormone produced by the adrenals, was also extremely low.

As with everything else since finding my naturopath, I choose to go the more holistic route with treatment which was basically a combination of supplements and mindfulness practices. I began making a concentrated effort to get to bed by 10pm (I’ll admit, it’s still a struggle), my living and work situation allowed me to sleep in past the point most would be able to which gave my body some of the extra rest it needed, I continued to eat as clean as possible in an effort to reduce the effort my body was required to put forth to digest, and, perhaps the biggest of all was my mental shift, allowing myself to just be. I was so tired of being tired and unwell.

For someone who hates to draw attention and make a big deal out of anything that has to do with oneself, I constantly felt like my body was forcing me to do nothing but that – out of pure necessity. In retrospect, I realize that others did not view me anything like the inconvenience I was sometimes sure I was, but that doesn’t make it any less stressful in the moment. I know that many can relate. You have to make a concentrated effort not to let your mind become your own worst enemy. Your family and friends love you, they want to see you well again and often feel just as helpless themselves. We all need to give ourselves a little break now and then.

Around April of 2018, I started a stronger supplement called HPA Axis Daytime Maintenance, which made a huge difference in my energy levels throughout the day. I started venturing out, doing more things little by little and realized that I could, in moderation. As I improved, the night sweats did as well until they disappeared completely. The palpitations now come only as a warning when I’ve done too much – pushed too hard – instead of as a daily occurrence. I had had so many plans before I started to feel unwell at the end of 2016 and doing things again started to seem possible. I got the urge to travel and moved forward with arrangements, prepared to apply the brakes as soon as my body began showing signs of overload. The timing seemed right to start that blog I had been thinking about for so long, to share my journey thus far and everything I’ve learned with others. To start a conversation, maybe plant an idea or two.

And here I am. For six weeks this summer I enjoyed island life in Canada on Prince Edward Island off the coast of New Brunswick (reference the Anne of Green Gables books for those familiar). I’m so much better in so many ways but my body continues to remind me not to get lackadaisical, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. In a continued effort to heal my gut, I recently took a food sensitivity test to try and more easily identify the foods that could be causing an inflammatory response in my body. My next focus will be to take out those foods for a period of time and then slowly reintroduce them. I’ll also be retesting soon to see where my levels are with my adrenals. For now, I’m enjoying my ventures into new territory and the elusive, ever changing quest to find – and keep – the balance.

Next week: Learning to Love the Process 

My Journey Through Health and Healing: Candida Overgrowth

One of the big things I’ve learned so far on my journey is that the ability to pay attention to what you’re feeling and experiencing, in both your mind and body, can not be overstated in its importance. I am grateful for the advancement of medicine and doctors, both of which continue to help so many, but those things should not be used as an excuse to tune out everything your body is telling you on a daily basis. I believe this deeply and have seen example after example to prove this true along my own health journey.

I’m also a big proponent of doing your own research and educating yourself as much as possible on what is or could potentially be going on, especially if you are seeing doctor after doctor with little results, as was my case. Naturally curious by nature, my need to know more and understand as much as I could as to what was happening to my body was only exacerbated by the lack of willingness I found in many of the physicians I saw, to get to the root cause of my problems.

We’ve likely all participated in the “Google symptom search” where the worse case scenarios appear and try to convince us that we’re on our way out. You know that’s going to happen so acknowledge it and dig deeper; in my experience, that is where the gold mine of information lies. Not necessarily among the top 3 search results or even on the first page, but somewhere among the thousands of other websites and forums that are out there. If you truly want answers and are willing to put in the time to find them, you will be amazed by how much you can learn.

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This “Candida Handout” provided by my naturopath was very helpful for breaking down and reminding me which foods I could eat and which foods I needed to stay away from for the ensuing months.

After the initial hour and a half consultation with my naturopath, a follow up “Report of Findings” visit was next (this was all included in the initial $250 consult fee I referenced in my last post). Through my own research, reading and familiarity with the symptoms I was experiencing, I had a sneaking suspicion that I might be dealing with an intestinal candida overgrowth. After discussing this with my naturopath, I decided, through her recommendation, to do a stool test which would measure the levels of bacteria in my gut, as well as the yeast levels and check for parasites. (Comprehensive Parasitology, stool, x3 via Doctor’s Data).

The test was very easy to conduct (albeit a little gross) and my results came back within a couple of weeks. It showed that I had some out of wack gut bacteria – not enough of the beneficial bacteria and too much of the commensal or imbalanced, ones. The test also showed that out of “none”, “few”, “moderate” and “many”, I had a moderate amount of excessive yeast found in my gut. To be clear, we all have a small amount of yeast in our gut. That’s normal. The problem occurs when an overgrowth happens. Like with most things, there are usually multiple contributing factors. My immune system had already been weakened considerably by the mono and resulting issues that required the use of steroids and other medications.

By the time my naturopath gave me a Candida diet handout, I was, thankfully, already familiar with the sort of outline I would need to follow should my suspicions be confirmed. Unfortunately, candida feeds on sugar, which means adherence to a strictly sugar free diet is necessary to kill it. This includes doing away with not only refined sugars, but also taking out high sugar fruits and vegetables and limiting the low sugar ones. Along with this, I removed all cheeses and other “moldy” or mold susceptible foods such as mushrooms, peanuts (and peanut butter), as well as any yeast containing foods. Having already been gluten free for some time by this point, this last item was fairly easy to avoid since I was largely already doing so. It also meant no ice cream! I’m sure glad I got my fix earlier in the summer but realized how much worse I had probably been making my symptoms without even knowing it.

An arsenal of strategically chosen supplements was a critical part of the mission to help restore the balance in my body.

I adhered strictly to the supplement and dietary recommendations my naturopath had given me for the next two months. By the time I retested for the candida and made an appointment to see my naturopath again, I had been on the diet for around 4 months, twice as long as was necessary. My stomach issues had largely (although not completely) resolved and I was feeling so much better in so many ways. Mercifully, my test results reflected that. The candida no longer appeared to be an issue and the bacteria in my gut were at healthy levels again.

Now the fun part: re-introducing some of the foods I loved (oh how I missed the aforementioned cheese, peanut butter and mushrooms and looked forward to adding them back into my diet – not at the same time… or together, ewww!). This was done one food at a time. I successfully reintroduced everything, except the sugar. By this time I had read and learned about the havoc our gross over-consumption of sugar reeks on our bodies and I wasn’t sure I wanted to fully reintroduce it again. I’ve already been sugar free for this long, I thought, what’s a little longer.

This diet was a big adjustment and so much more difficult for me personally, than going gluten free – but I did it, I learned a lot and by choice have continued to stick with it. I’ll be sharing more soon on why I’ve chosen to denormalize sugar, along with some helpful information and advice if you’d like to do the same.

Next week (the last in the 5 part series documenting my recent health journey) – My Journey Through Health and Healing: Adrenal Fatigue 

My Journey Through Health and Healing: Finding a Naturopath

In spite of the new challenges my allergies and the onset of asthma (that I covered last week) presented, summer came, the tests and doctors visits slowed down and it felt good to get outside. I was still having a lot of GI problems and was growing frustrated with the symptomatic treatment I was receiving from doctors. No one seemed to think that my sudden outbreak of symptoms and issues were related. To me it was a no-brainer. I was being treated and medicated for each symptom on its own but what about the cause??

Per the recommendation of the allergist, I bought a HEPA air filter and some allergen proof mattress and pillow covers that spring… I was doing my best to cover my bases!

Summer time meant warm weather up here in the Mid-West and ICE CREAM. Like ice cream every day. At least, multiple times a week. I might have an ice cream addiction, okay? Well, it’s not that bad but it’s a personal favorite and finding little enjoyment in much else during that period, I indulged in it.

Around this time, my mother told me about a conversation she had had with a doctor who had recently partnered with a business that my parents co-founded, called Bonvera. She had told him about myself and everything I had been dealing with. He had started a revolutionary clinic in Wichita, Kansas called Prairie Health and Wellness that offers a monthly membership and takes a multi-faceted approach to health and healing. It was too bad I didn’t live closer to his clinic, he had told my mom, there were a number of tests he would have run right off the bat that a typical doctor most likely wouldn’t.

One of the doctors in his practice is a licensed naturopath, something I hadn’t even considered up until that point. After deciding that moving to Kansas for a short time was just not practical, I decided to look into the possibility of seeing a naturopath. I honestly didn’t know much about them and had certainly never been to one before; I didn’t even know if there were any remotely close to where I live.

Lo and behold a quick Google search revealed not one but many naturopath’s in the state of Ohio and several with-in a 90 mile radius. I quickly educated myself as I narrowed down the results to one who I hoped would be a good fit for my situation. Not all self proclaimed naturopath’s have actually had formal training, I learned. There are only 7 accredited naturopathic medical programs in the United States and only 22 states currently recognize licensed naturopaths. I noticed that Ohio was not yet one of them.

What does this mean? It simply means that even if your ND (Naturopathic Doctor) has had formal training (which was important to me), if they are practicing in a state that does not recognize that training, they have some restrictions placed on them. They are more than qualified to practice medicine but they will not be able to accept insurance and they will also not be able to write prescriptions, if they are needed. They can however, still order a large variety of home based test kits depending on what your situation calls for. Overall, I’ve come to think of it more along the lines of a consultation.

Initially, I was a little taken back by the fact that my visits would all be out of pocket and the initial consultation costs were around $250. But honestly, what did I have to lose? I had already spent thousands of dollars (after insurance) on doctors and tests that, in the long run, did not seem to be doing anything for me. I felt like if anything, I was being pushed along on a sideways trajectory. I wanted up and out. I wanted answers. I wanted to feel better again, and if this had any potential to be the answer to my prayers, I wasn’t going to let another couple hundred dollars deter me. What is your health, sanity and quality of life worth? I couldn’t put a price on it.

I began taking more notice of the foods I was eating. I felt like crap already and didn’t need junk food to drag me down further. I found comfort and enjoyment in healthy, nourishing snacks that not only tasted good but didn’t make my body feel worse.

I finally settled on Dr. Maleigha Watts of Toledo Naturopathic. Dr. Watts has a very professional website that clearly states her views on medicine and her belief in the use of both traditional and non traditional methods depending on what the situation calls for. She isn’t against using medications if they are necessary. She also offers free 20 minute phone consultations with potential patients so you can both get a feel and assess if you’d be a good fit for each other. Many of the other naturopath’s that I looked into offered something similar. After my initial consultation with Dr. Watts I had no doubt.

I scheduled my first appointment with Dr. Watts and was amazed when she spent an hour and a half during my first visit asking various questions about my physical and mental health history, dating back to childhood. She is usually scheduled out a month or more in advance for the initial consultations – it’s worth the wait, trust me. The best part? She listened. I mean truly, sincerely listened to what I had to say and to the concerns that I had. Dr. Watts has a beautiful way of making you feel at ease and in every appointment since the first, I walk away feeling refreshed and reinvigorated with a renewed sense of direction and understanding. I left that very first appointment on a high, both physically and emotionally, already so very grateful for what would become a game changer on my journey towards health and healing.

To learn more about naturopathic medicine and find a licensed naturopath near you, click here.

Next week: My Journey Through Health and Healing: Candida Overgrowth

My Journey Through Health and Healing: Allergies and Asthma

Last week I talked about the beginning stages of my bout with mono. I don’t remember much from the weeks following my ER visit, except that I rested a lot and wasn’t well enough to make my evening trip to the barn to see my horse, who lives a mile down the road, for over 6 weeks. The fact that I was living with the family I work for was an incredible blessing. Most of my work being conducted on the computer, I was able to still keep up with some of the business I had been doing before I got sick. In reality though, even sitting at my desk was tiring and more time was spent on the office couch with my laptop nearby, resting and working in increments. A kind and understanding employer is not a luxury everyone has and I’m grateful, as I would have almost certainly lost my job in any other circumstance.

After weeks on the couch, a “new do” and some makeup goes a long way towards making one feel normal… on the outside at least. (February 2017)

Time passed in a haze. I remember going back to the barn at some point and trying to spend some time with my horse. As I groomed him and his hair landed on my arms I broke out in a rash. This was unexpected. I knew I was allergic to many animals and it had gotten a bit worse with age, but in the past, so long as I kept the hair out of my eyes and away from my face, I was okay. I have always loved animals and have surrounded myself with them throughout my life. Cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, even a painted turtle. This reaction was different, I had never broken out upon simple contact before. My body was clearly on high alert.

Around this time (spring 2017) I realized I was having a hard time breathing. Actually, when I started to think about it, I had started having shortness of breath and other asthma like symptoms not long after my ER visit in January. I had asthma as a very young child but it had not been an issue for years. To compound things, I was still dealing with fatigue and my heart palpitations were persisting as were the GI symptoms that had been plaguing me since Christmas time. It was frightening. I was experiencing so many unfamiliar sensations and I was overwhelmed.

By this time I had had a number of doctors visits. One visit in particular set my blood on fire. The doctor was an older gentleman who has been practicing in the small town I live for a very long time. He took a brief look at the litany of tests I had undergone as I tried to explain all of the things I had already been through that year as well as the symptoms I was still experiencing, including the palpitations. I had written down some questions and as I started on the first one, he took the paper out of my hand, scanning it quickly while muttering under his breath.

Hypochondriac,” he mumbled as he looked up at me. Embarrassed, I tried to explain my situation again, this time flustered and without my paper of questions he continued to withhold. He proceeded to flip over the paper I had brought along and drew out a diagram to illustrate what anxiety looked like and offered his opinion on why “most girls my age had it”. By this time I was mortified. If you’d have experienced what I have in the past few months you’d have anxiety too, I thought. I didn’t want pills and I realized very quickly that nothing I could say or do would help him understand.

I went home upset and not long after, received a $230 bill from his office, which I unsuccessfully tried my best to reverse. I resigned myself to the fact that this one would have to be chalked up to experience… after I wrote a very honest review on Google! My point in telling this story: There is always a way to make your voice heard. Keep searching.

Along with those doctors visits came a slew of tests. I think I had 5 complete blood work ups total during 2017 for various reasons. I underwent a chest x-ray, an EKG and an echo-cardiogram which showed some unexplained irregular heart beats and minor regurgitation in one of my heart valves, an apparently common occurrence but not the cause of the palpitations I was experiencing. I also had allergy testing done which confirmed I was highly allergic to many of the things I love most (animals and outdoors). Around this time I underwent a pulmonary functioning test which showed some obstruction in my lungs. I was initially put on a low dose of Flovent which was soon raised to a higher dosage of 110mcg 2 puffs twice a day along with 10mg of Singular and an Allegra, both taken once a day. It was costing me $250 a month for the inhalers alone. (I did finally learn of a way to order them through a Canadian pharmacy, which brought the price down significantly to a more reasonable $65/month.)

With new diagnoses and new medications I entered summer, feeling unsettled and anxious despite all of the “answers” I had been give.

Next week: My Journey Through Health and Healing: Finding a Naturopath 

My Journey Through Health and Healing: Mononucleosis

One of my goals for this blog is to help others find their voice and if nothing else, know they are not alone – whether you can relate to my struggles, or are dealing with something completely different. Over the next month I want to share with you all an abbreviated version of my own journey which put me on this path a year and a half ago. Until I got sick, beyond your standard cold or flu, and started sharing snippets of what I was going through in conversation with others, I never really realized how many people are suffering in silence or how completely autoimmune diseases can and do make their presence felt in the lives of so many every single day.

I’m not looking for sympathy, I’ve learned to embrace my journey and I’m grateful for it. I simply hope that by sharing what I’ve gone through, others might be able to carve their own path to healing more quickly, or at the very least, with a better sense of direction. The next few blogs will be a general outline of my recent health journey. Included will be the major turning points; at a later date I may expound even more on some of the things that I have tried and that have (or have not) helped me. Today, a look back at how it all began…

I began showing symptoms of Mono around the end of December, 2016. I had done quite a bit of work related traveling in October and with the standard incubation period of mono being around 6 weeks, I suspect I may have picked it up around that time. Contrary to popular belief, there are other ways of contracting it aside from kissing. Or, perhaps it had been laying dormant for years and a combination of events had unknowingly kicked it into high gear. There’s really no way to know for sure. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started feeling unwell but looking back, things began to unravel on my trip home to visit my family over Christmas.

Everything was status quo when the steering wheel on my car began to lock up. I was able to navigate over a lane and pulled to a quick stop in the median between the highway and an on ramp as my wheel stiffened even more. Thankfully, with cars zooming past me at an uncomfortably close proximity, I wasn’t far from home and my rescue party was able to come and help me. Although there was snow on the ground, it was a mild mid-west winter day so the lack of heat while I waited wasn’t too much of a concern at the time. A parts store was a little ways down the road and after a couple of trips we were able to find the problem and fix my vehicle. Though I hadn’t dressed for an adventure on the side of the road, my soaked feet didn’t really bother me and I finished the drive home in my car albeit wet, hungry and with my nerves on edge but grateful for the quick fix.

It became quickly apparent to me that I was coming down with a stomach virus of some sorts. Restroom visits were frequent and I hesitated eating many of the festive holiday foods that I loved so much. As my trip home came to a close, we decided to shop some of the post holiday sales before I headed back to Ohio. The nausea kicked in full force on the way, and I kept my eyes clamped shut until we arrived, willing myself not to be sick all over the back seat. I made it through the shopping trip but it was rough.

After talking with my mom, we both agreed that I probably had a blood sugar issue (I had had isolated episodes of nausea and dizziness in the past and on a day to day basis, always needed to eat almost immediately upon waking) so I made an appointment to see my doctor once I returned to Ohio. As the weeks went on, the nausea and stomach issues remained, hitting hard early in the day and trailing off towards evening. I didn’t know what to make of it but I pushed through –what else was there to do? I certainly couldn’t put my life on hold because my tummy hurt. I had big plans going into the New Year and didn’t have time for whatever this was.

A loving reminder as I stumbled through those first couple of months, trying to figure out what was happening to me and why. Thanks Gram.

A blood test revealed nothing too amiss. My doctor prescribed me some pills for anxiety, which I was wary to begin after learning the possible side effects, and I was scheduled to see her again soon. Two evenings later, on January 18th, as I drove home from the barn, my first real anxiety attack hit, hard. I didn’t know what was happening and I couldn’t shake it. I had this horrible feeling that something was not right with my body.

As the night went on, it only got worse. My body felt like it was crumbling to pieces, I had no control. I couldn’t get a full breathe of air, my chest was painfully tight, I couldn’t stop the trembling and the palpitations were constant. I wracked my brain in search of a reasonable cause. The evening before I had gone out and had a few drinks with friends to celebrate my birthday, the only thing I had taken the following day was an Excedrin for a painful headache. It didn’t make sense.

I slept with my eyes open that night, terrified and unable to fall asleep. The next morning, with the palpitations continuing, I went into the ER and they ran a slew of tests. The doctor came in, smiling, and told me he had good news and bad news. The good news was they had discovered my problem – the bad news, I had a case of mononucleosis (more commonly referred to as “mono”). The palpitations? They couldn’t put a finger on it. Their advice? Go home, avoid any strenuous activity for a couple of months, drink lots of fluids and rest. Armed with that meager bit of information I went home, having no idea just how thoroughly mono, the Epstein Barr Virus and autoimmunity itself would weave its way around my life in the months to come.

Next week: My Journey Through Health and Healing: Allergies and Asthma 

…And Why Is It So Hard?

This week’s post includes some additional thoughts on last week’s topic, “What is ‘Healthy Eating’?”

On a podcast I was listening to the other day the guest made a very simple but valid point that resonated with me. Eating healthy, giving our bodies the nutritious fuel we need to live our lives, is not supposed to be a monumental task. Think about that for a second. Eating is not meant to be the daily ginormous physical and mental battle that is has become for so many. It really isn’t supposed to be this hard. So WHY is it and why do we guilt ourselves so badly about it??

If you asked most people what the first thing is that pops into their head when they hear the term “healthy eating” it’s likely not an energized sense of well-being. Maybe more along the lines of a guilty flashback to last night’s piece of chocolate cake. I think it’s something we’ve all experienced at least one time or another (if not all the time!). It might start with an internal groan followed by an excuse on why a “pass” is deserved (dare I say… again?) and maybe even a few tries at making yourself feel better about your current attempts to follow whatever you think or have been told equates to a healthy diet. And let’s be real, what’s considered “healthy” one day often changes by the next. Well, not quite that quickly, but you get my gist. Eating healthy can be time consuming, frustrating, expensive and downright overwhelming.

As to why, I think many cases could be made. The blessing of modern technology has brought with it an insane amount of added chemicals, hormones, preservatives and dyes that now make up a majority of the food in our grocery stores. We are bombarded with ads for these items everywhere we turn, from our local fast food favorites to commercials and ads on the television and internet. It’s literally in our face. All the time. And it is so easy. From the frozen dinners at the supermarket to the drive thru at McDonald’s, it’s not hard to see how these habits quickly creep into the lives of busy families and become a weekly staple. Then once they do, what happens? There are just as many ads enlightening us on how we can “redeem” ourselves. It can be quite the vicious cycle.

I can’t help but throw one more wrench in the works by adding another possible and all too common scenario as to why someone might be struggling with sticking to a chosen path. What about those that didn’t knowingly choose it? What if you HAD to eat – or not eat – a certain way due to health concerns? That doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to stick to. In some ways, it makes it even harder because unlike willingly choosing to try and eat a certain way, it wasn’t something you sought out. This is the perspective I come from. (Yet another topic for another time but one I think it’s important to cover sooner rather than later.)

Now I ask you, what if it wasn’t hard? What if when we feel we’ve slipped up or overindulged yet again, we didn’t beat ourselves over the head? What if we accepted it and moved on? This doesn’t mean you should be lackadaisical about it but there’s no sense in letting it ruin your day and everyone else’s. The age old adage “tomorrow is a new day” is wonderful, but you don’t need to wait until the following day. The next piece of food you put into your mouth has the potential to be a new beginning!

Speaking of eggplant… this curry was so good! (Recipe courtesy of the Rich Roll Meal Planner.)

Many people have simply never been shown how easy, fun and delicious it can be to make their own nutrient dense meals with minimal but high quality ingredients. Sure, you can get elaborate if you want but when I’m hungry, I want to eat now and anything that takes a great deal of time is just not going to happen unless I’ve planned for it in advance – which is another great habit to get into it… but more on that another time.

I recently made a personal commitment to start eating more plant based meals. I’m picking up vegetables in the grocery store I’ve never ever bought and in some cases, have never even heard of before, and – with the help of God and Google – have been incorporating them into my meals. Who knew that eggplant was so good? Laugh at me if you will and rest assured, you don’t need to get all crazy. My point is, I’m finding that it’s really not that hard. Or time consuming. It just takes a little effort and practice. I am by no means a lifelong cook. It’s a new passion and the more I try, the more my confidence grows. Yours can too.

Recipes are a much needed guide to begin with (for me at least) but after some practice, you just might find yourself becoming a little daring and attempting some of your own inventive concoctions. Next week will see the launch of a series of blog post explaining my own back story and what put me on this path.